Understanding the Female Breast
While breast cancer can occur in men, it is most common in women. So, before you can truly understand breast cancer, you have to understand the makeup of the female breast. Inside of the female breast are many lobules and ducts. These are used for milk production. These are present, whether milk is being produced or not.
In addition to the lobules and ducts, fatty and connective tissue are also found within the breast. These are known as stroma. Blood vessels and lymphatic vessels are also found within the breast. Most types of breast cancer actually start within the ducts of the breast. However, there are others that start in the lobules of the breast. Still others start in other tissues that are present in the breast.
Understanding the Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is extremely important when it comes to breast cancer. This is one of the ways that breast cancer can spread throughout the body.
These small, bean-shaped cells are elements of the immune system. They help the body to fight off infection and are connected throughout the body by lymphatic vessels. These are like miniature veins that carry clear fluid throughout the body. It carries waste products and tissue fluids so that it can be removed from the body. It also carries immune system cells.
If breast cancer enters into the lymph nodes, it can easily spread to the rest of the body. This is because it is a direct attack on the immune system. Additionally, this can increase the chance that the cancer has entered into the blood stream or other organs. If you have breast cancer in your lymph nodes, your doctors will need to know the extent of the metastasis (or spreading). This will affect your overall treatment plan.
Benign Breast Lumps
Lumps are often found within the breasts that are not cancerous. In fact, most breast lumps are benign. Scar like tissues and fluid-filled sacs can develop just before a woman’s menstrual period. These can feel lumpy and are often tender. They may even create a discharge from the nipples. While these are not cancerous nor are they life threatening, they should still be evaluated by your doctor. Other subtypes of breast cancer can cause similar symptoms and the only way to be certain is by checking with your physician.
You should also be aware that some benign breast lumps may actually increase your chances of developing breast cancer. These are often known as benign breast tumors and include fibroadenomas and intraductal papillomas.
Risk Factors for Breast Cancer
Risk factors for breast cancer can sometimes be altered. However, there are many risk factors that you really cannot do anything about. However, being aware of all of the risk factors can help make you more aware of your probability of developing breast cancer. Your doctor should also be aware of any risk factors that may apply to you.
Being female automatically puts you at higher risk for breast cancer. And, as you age, you become at a higher risk. However, there are some subtypes of breast cancer that are more common around younger women. So, no matter what your age, you should be aware of the fact that risks exist.
Genetic and hereditary risk factors can also increase your personal risk. So can a personal history of breast cancer. Additionally, certain genetic conditions can also increase your chances of developing breast cancer.
Some races and ethnic groups are at a higher risk for breast cancer as well. African-American women, Hispanic women, Native-American women, and Asian women are at a higher risk for certain subtypes of breast cancer.
Women who have dense breast tissue or have had certain benign breast conditions are also at a higher risk. This includes fibrosis or cysts, hyperplasia, duct ectasia, and fat necrosis, among many others. Each has a varying degree to which they increase your breast cancer risks. Talk with your doctor to find out if you should be concerned.
Women who have had children or taken oral contraceptives are also at a higher risk. While these are factors that you can change, they are lifestyle choices that most women do make at one time or another in their lives. These factors are also big risk increasing factors for a rare type of breast cancer that is difficult to detect, called triple negative breast cancer.
Women who drink alcohol frequently or are overweight are also at a higher risk for breast cancer. These are risk factors that you can change and often eliminate from the equation. If you are already at a higher risk, you may want to consider removing these items from your list of risks.